Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Site: The Topspin Blog at

For continued coverage, including articles and updates on the U.S. vs France Davis Cup match in Winston-Salem in April 2008, go to

Monday, December 3, 2007

One Last Shot

There were no epic matches in Portland, but the 107-year-old silver hardware will be in the states for at least a year. The U.S. posted wins this season over the Czech Republic, Spain, Sweden and Russia. Above the team poses with the cup Sunday afternoon, one night after the sure-to-be legendary team party. The Bryan brothers' blog Sunday night confirmed that Andy planned to "tie" one one and bail out on Sunday's match. Bob Bryan wrote, "It was about 6 o'clock last night when Andy told me that he wouldn't be ready to play today - he'd had a few too many at the victory celebrations."

The champs have only two months to enjoy the victory until the first round of the 2008 draw begins. The U.S. team will travel to Vienna, Austria to play indoors on slow, red clay Feb. 8-10.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

From Competition to Exhibition: “Dead Rubbers” Fulfill the Three-Day Pass

Imagine in the World Series after the winning team sweeps the series in game four and celebrates on the field and in the clubhouse, they returned to play games five, six and seven just for the hell of it.

That’s essentially what the Davis Cup does. Although the U.S. won the tie yesterday by winning the first three duels, two more meaningless singles matches will be played today. The USTA sold only three-day passes, so they have obligations to meet. The biggest event will be the U.S. team posing with the trophy, a colossal piece of hardware that must run up one hell of a shipping bill.

The matches played after the tie is decided are known by the highly questionable term “dead rubbers,” a phrase that could serve as excellent inspiration for many jokes that are unfit for a family friendly blog such as this one. Speaking of terminology, the description of the competition as a “tie” is peculiar and confusing to all but the most seasoned of Davis Cup fans. Can’t we let go of this semantic tradition and simply call it a team match like every other tennis team in leagues across the country do? A USTA official said that "tie" was chosen by the International Tennis Federation to distinguish the overall competitions from the individual matches, but there has to be a better name. (The term rubber comes from cricket, apparently.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Day 2: Bryan Brothers Bring It Back Home

Bob and Mike Bryan, the all-American doubles duplicates, buckled down Saturday and overcame a 1-3 deficit in the first set tiebreaker, winning the first set and never looking back until red, blue and silver banners streamed from the roof of the Portland Memorial Coliseum and the engraver began scratching American names onto the trophy.

"We've been working for this since we were two-years-old," said Bob, or maybe it was Mike. "All I can say is whew!"

The Bryans dominated the Russian pair of Davydenko and Andreev, singles stars whose strategy consisted of staying on the baseline and whaling at groundstrokes, a plan that was doomed on a hard fast court. The Bryans win that clinches the first Davis Cup for the U.S. since 1995 will be a career cornerstone for the number one doubles team in the world that is now 13-1 in Davis Cup play. Considering the anonymity in which doubles teams toil, it was a great moment to see the Bryans, who turn 30 next April, clinch the victory.

Other musings from my notepad: Day 2 started and ended with members of the Russian team and coaches playing soccer on one end of the court, with folding chairs set up for the goals. Andreev and Youzhny participated in the morning three-on-three soccer matchup before Davydenko came out and he and Andreev warmed up. After the Bryans won and the celebration began to wane after twenty minutes of photos and smiles, the Russians emerged from the locker room and swept away the streamers from one end of the court, this time with enough people for a five-on-five game, including yesterday's losers Youzhny and Tursonov, neither of whom seem too heartbroken, unless perhaps they were trying to distract themselves from the agony of defeat with the joy of kicking a ball...Although the Russians lost the tie, they won the contest of the coolest warmups, these red duds with this wild looking logo that looks like some sort of combination of a heart and vines, sprawling down the left side of the jackets...During the warmup, Andreev several times swiveled the racket sideways and smacked shots with the frame of the racket...The USTA honored Stan Smith before the match, member of seven Davis Cup championship teams, including the classic match against Ion Tiriac written about here earlier... After more flag presentations and ceremonial hooptedoodle (including a speech by Patrick McEnroe who maybe exaggerated just a little when he called the competition a worldwide peacemaking event), pyrotechnics exploded near the rafters...McEnroe's singing-actress wife sang the national anthem well--her new album will be out in the spring...Moving moments when a wheelchair champion tennis player from Portland tossed the coin, and later had his picture with the team who greeted him warmly...I'm not sure why the coaches both made speeches and the players exchange gifts before the matches on day two. Wonder what they got for each other?...There was little jingoistic anger between Russians and Americans, and no Americans taunted the alleged matchfixer Davydenko at all...Davis Cup matches might be the only time that tennis succumbs to the favorite American pastime of fawning for T-shirts tossed into the audience. For some reason, when free T-shirts are proffered, perfectly reasonable people turn into beasts not unlike ravenous monkeys who will kill for a banana or a fresh piece of fruit...My only beef with the Bryan brothers who seem like wonderfully fine fellows is that they both wear big shiny watches on the court. I know they are getting paid by someone to do this, and if I was a pro player only making doubles money (and sharing it with my brother, no less) I would probably agree to wear about anything for cold hard cash. But I'm sick of tennis players trying to sell me a watch. I've had the same watch I got free with a Sports Illustrated subscription six years ago and it serves me just fine. It tells the same damn time as if it was a Rolex....After the Bryan brothers won the first set, they got more aggressive and took over the net and dominated the final two sets. Kickass power American tennis! It was good to see...The only drawback to the day is that sitting directly behind us was a man there who did not stop talking about the match, sort of our own personal Mary Carillo talking in our ears. He constantly moderated the events on courts, repeated things the umpire said, embarrassingly tried to analyze the play, and then would occasionally ask his son, allegedly a junior player, questions like, "Which is the deuce side?" I showed great restraint in not trying to strangle him. I much preferred the Russians fans sitting in front of us...To escape the babbling dude's monologue, I took a break during the second set and stopped by the Wilson racket booth where I was disturbed to learn that they are phasing out the N-code rackets, which includes the Blade that I use, and switching them to K-factor. (Does any of Wilson's alphabetic nonsense mean anything to anybody? N-code, K-code, I don't understand, nor do I have time to learn the difference.) Anyway, one of the tennis stores with a booth there has models of my racket that he wanted to get rid of so I bought one for $70 that he is shipping to me. I plan to put it into action next spring for the Green Valley Tennis Club 4.5 team of Haddown Township, N.J., when we win the Southern Jersey division (yeah, I'm talking to you, Cherry Hill) and go onto nationals...I returned to my seat in time to see the Bryans take the second and third sets in style, dominating the net like you've got to do in doubles on fast courts...

And finally, the Bryans won the match, and the streamers fell down and the players hugged and then mugged for pictures, signed autographs, and a good time was had by all.

Twins Go For the Win

Identical twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan can bring home the silver reward that is the Davis Cup with a win today, ending a 12-year-trophyless streak for the U.S. team.

The only way to tell the 29-year-old brothers apart is that Bob is a lefty and Mike is a righty. Twenty percent of identical twins have such different hand preferences.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 1: Dubious Drop Shot Drops Russians Into 2-0 Hole

The day in the Portland Memorial Coliseum started with a warm-up performer banging on plastic buckets--fresh from the Tyra Banks Show, a breathless announcer proclaimed--moved on to Andy Roddick banging aces (25 in 14 service games), and essentially ended with Mikail Youzhny's deleterious decision to hit a drop shot that ended up in the bottom of the net in the fourth-set tiebreaker that he was losing 4-3.

All of Russia must have winced when Youhzny went for a drop shot from his backhand side. Youzhny had hit numerous stunning one-handed backhand winners in the hard-fought match, but very few dropshots, so his decision to do so at a critical point in the tiebreaker was ill-advised. Even if the spinning softy had cleared the net, fleet-footed James Blake would have run it down. Blake played two strong points after that and closed out the match, putting the U.S. up by two points in a three point contest. I guess James figured it was someone else's time to choke.

The rest of the eight-hour day is recounted in an obscenely long paragraph: American fans politely applaud alleged matchfixer Nikolai Davydenko in introductions (we tennis fans are so nice!)..."Rowdy" Davis Cup crowds blow whistles and bang together plastic inflatable tubes, but mostly fall quiet when the ball goes into play...A hearty Russian contingent behind their team bench cheers in their mother tongue (they could be saying terrible things, we'd never know) and blow a deep-throated air horn that is hysterically comical, like a lonesome cow in the Siberian plain...mostly gray-haired fans in the front row of the VIP seats on each end ducking for their lives while Roddick and Youzhny hit warmup serves that hop into the seats like missiles...baseline judges using the most-neglected call in all of the tennis, the foot fault, on Roddick early in the match (although they quit calling it later in the match--I thought he got away with a foot on the line on an ace at deuce at 5-4 in the second set). Youzhny also committed a few foot faults. Think of what the line judges would do to serial foot-faulter Leyton Hewitt...The Portland Memorial Coliseum is an old, second-rate arena that must have been nice in the early seventies. (If any arena is still called simply "Memorial" that means the marketing department has been unable to sell the naming rights). The Rose Coliseum next door is the big hall, and I'm sure it has better concessions than the two choices of hot dogs, one pizza vendor and a Subway franchise with the longest lines in the history of that ubiquitous, below-average-generic deli. Davis Cup gets the old dingy hall; tomorrow night, eighties has-beens Van Halen play the Rose Coliseum for the baby boomers who haven't bought a new CD since Reagan was president (I thought the Northwest was supposed to be cool)...I hate to say this, but inept ball children do not get the balls to the players in time, prompting the players and umpires to direct them with waves and scowls. One boy stumbled and fell into the singles sticks while retrieving an errant serrve, knocking the stick loose and requiring the umpire to come down and fix the net. Because of the delay, Youzhny was granted another first serve and hit an ace. He then went up and high-fived the young ballboy...Portland's best singers apparently are nine-year-olds, handling the National Anthem and God Bless America with all the skill of eighth-graders (that's a compliment, nine-year-olds are fourth grade or so.)...Can anyone explain to me why Blake challenged a Youzhny serve that was called out? Even though he hit a would-be winner on the serve that was out, the linesman had made a call and Youzhny stopped, so the best he could win was a second serve anyway. However, the ball was deemed out, as called, and Youzhny was rewarded a first serve for a shot he had hit out already. Confused? I am. Blake, like the gentlemen named Davis who founded this event in 1900, went to Harvard; I only went to more affordable state schools. Did he think his return winner would count if the ball was in?...And speaking of challenges, tennis balls have a very faint skin of yellow felt, almost like little hairs. The rule is that if any part of the ball touches the line, and I assume this means the fuzz, the ball is good. So how do we track these tiny threads? It's too bad my USTA league doesn't have these shot spot machines. When I was a kid playing junior tennis in the seventies and eighties, there were a few players against whom you had to hit the ball inside the line to get the call. Anything that touched a line would be called out. Michael Gilbert, you know who you are...Point of the day was at deuce at 2-2 in the third set, won by Youzhny, a long rally with several major retrievals and an incredible lob by the Russian...Blake and Youzhny show how truly good they are, smacking manly one-handed backhands crosscourt, powerful shots hit where they were because that was the opponent's weak side...Andy Roddick on camera chomping on his nails during Blake's match. Get the boy a manicure...

And that gets me to Youzhny's drop shot attempt, after which point we all waited in a long line of traffic to escape the concrete parking deck. Check out the Davis Cup slide show on Yahoo if you need images to go with these words.

It's Good to See The Fast, Fast Courts of Home; Replaying Replays

In no other sporting event is the home court advantage more significant, primarily because the hosts choose the surface. U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe chose a Baltimore company to construct a portable cushioned-hard court to his players' liking, The Miami Herald reports. Last year, the Russians beat the U.S. on red clay in Moscow, but today they'll toe the lines on a Maryland-made fast court that was shipped in last week.

Viewers today should also plan on watching that digitized image of the ball flying down and hitting (or missing) the lines again and again. Unlike Grand Slams where players have two challenges per set, this weekend will have unlimited challenges -- why not get a second opinion if the call doesn't goes your way? McEnroe is against it but could not sway the International Tennis Federation who calls the shots.